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Supercomputing Cleaner Combustion

Simulations are helping Cheng understand what’s happening inside the low-swirl burner in greater detail than can be observed experimentally.

Over at Berkeley Labs, Jon Bashor writes that mathematicians using supercomputers are working directly with combustion scientists to better understand the complex chemistry of combustion to develop cleaner, more efficient engines that can use renewable fuels.

The challenge is daunting because of the range of scales,” said Berkeley’s Robert Cheng. In industrial-sized burners, combustion chemistry occurs at the micron scale with the flame burning at 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit and at up to 20 atmospheres of pressure. At these conditions the burners are expected to operate around the clock for up to three years, about 185,000 hours. Compare this with an internal combustion engine in a car, which is designed to last about 10,000 hours with regular maintenance. Such detailed accuracy in simulations was impossible just a few years ago. However, algorithmic improvements developed by scientists and mathematicians in CCSE have slashed computational costs for combustion simulations by a factor of 10,000 while the number of variables used to specify the solution has increased from hundreds of thousands to more than a billion. The increase in complexity (and fidelity) has made laboratory-scale 3D simulations possible for the first time.

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